Multi-million dollar Buzzy Bee stage show to hit the road

By Joanna Hunkin

For 60 years, he has been the quintessential icon of a Kiwi childhood. His clickety-clack wheels, spinning wings and bobbing antennas have delighted generations of children from every stratum of society, including a young Prince William.

Now the humble Buzzy Bee is to come to life, with six of his lesser-known mates, in a multi-million dollar travelling stage show.

Unveiled this week, Buzzy Bee's Big Day Out stage show is still a work in progress, according to producers Wendie Hall and William McKegg of Lion Rock Productions. But all going to plan, the finished show will be ready to roll next month when it kicks off a year-long national tour.

Promising "sophisticated stories", McKegg said the show was intended to entertain adults as much as children.

"It's not The Wiggles or Bananas in Pyjamas. It's more Pixar," he explained.

After examining various theatres around the country, the producers opted to stage the show in circus tent, giving viewers a more intimate experience and increasing the number of towns they can visit.

"We've also worked very hard to make pricing afforable, so every kid in New Zealand can see it," said McKegg.

Set in the town of Rolling Downs, located in between Wheelington and Walkland, Buzzy Bee and his friends will perform 15 songs, composed by Michael O'Neill and Peter van der Fluit of 80s pop group The Screaming Meemees.

Former Shortland Street star Nicole Thomson will don a duck suit and gum boots as she takes on the role of Dorable Duck.

"It will be weird performing live, you only get to do it once, obviously. I'm looking forward to seeing New Zealand differently," she said of the new role.

"With children, it's quite a big challenge because if they're not interested it will show. It will be quite fun learning to keep them engaged."

Other characters will include Mary Lou, Oscar Ostrich, Trikey Tom, Elle-Gator and Driver Don.

All of the characters were created by the original Buzzy Bee creators, Hec and John Ramsay, in their New Lynn factory during the 1940s and 50s.

Three years ago, Lion Rock Productions bought the intellectual property rights to Buzzy Bee and his friends, and set about bringing the characters to life.

In addition to the stage show, the company has made an animated show reel featuring the colourful toys, and is finalising details of a distribution deal with a British firm.

Hall said they hoped to begin work on an animated series later this year, with the first episodes screening on New Zealand television before Christmas next year.

Auckland children will be the first to meet the new "live" Buzzy Bee, when the stage show premiers on June 23.

The show will stay in Auckland at various locations until October, when it will head to Northland then back down through the central North Island.

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